Your Bank or Credit Union and Brand Intimacy

Your Bank or Credit Union and Brand Intimacy

Increasingly, you hear people talk about getting consumers to like your brand. But liking a brand isn’t enough. For your bank or credit union brand to succeed, your consumers must love it. And for them to love it, they must feel some sort of intimate connection with it.

Yes, that’s right — intimacy.

While intimacy and a financial institution brand may not seem to go hand-in-hand, there is definitely a place for it at your bank or credit union. So, how can a bank or credit union establish an intimate bond with its consumers? According to a recent report, the top five brands with intimate connections to Millennials are Apple, Nintendo, Netflix, Amazon and Disney. There are lessons to learn here. And don’t shy away because of the Millennial reference. The examples below apply to any age demographic.

While the companies listed above may not have a lot in common on the surface, they all demonstrate ways in which brands can connect intimately with their consumers. Consider the following for your bank or credit union:

  • Emotion over logic. Generally, consumers don’t make purchase decisions based on logic. They are driven primarily by emotion. Companies like Disney do a terrific job of establishing that emotional connection. Are there cheaper places to take your family for vacation than Disney World? Absolutely. But consumers will pay that premium because of the emotional connection, memories and family fun. Your financial institution must also give consumers a reason to choose it when logic says otherwise. For example, while your competitors may have more branches or better rates, you must offer something (generally along the lines of superior experience) that provides an emotional connection and generates brand loyalty.
  • Content is king. Your bank or credit union must provide terrific consumer information in order to stand out from the competition. Simply going for “sell, sell, sell” all the time will only turn off consumers. Companies like Amazon do a great job providing content for consumers (an example of this are customer reviews on Amazon). Your financial institution must also be a leader in content if it wants to establish intimate links between its brand and consumers.
  • Actively listening to consumers. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates famously remarked “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” This definitely applies to banks and credit unions. While we all love the glowing reviews, don’t turn a blind eye towards upset consumers. Hear what your consumers are saying about their pain points in doing business with you and actively work towards remedying those. For example, if you’re getting a lot of complaints about your outdated website, take a serious look at a redesign.

In order for brand to work, your financial institution executive management team must lead it. Your staff must live it. Only then can your consumers love it. Love, in great measure in branding, is determined by intimacy with consumers. So — just how intimate is your bank or credit union brand?

Having Fun and Putting Love In Your Brand

Having Fun and Putting Love In Your Brand

It’s February, which means Valentine’s Day is upon us and, for many, love is in the air. The deeper question however, is this – do consumers love your bank or credit union?

Notice I didn’t say the word like. It’s too easy for a consumer to like a particular product, service or retailer. Many people, for example, might say they like a particular motorcycle but typically only Harley-Davidson owners will jump up on a table, proudly show you their logo tattoo and proclaim undying love for their bike.

Similarly, lots of consumers may say they like a particular cell phone, but you don’t find many people camping out on sidewalks four hours (if not days) in advance of a new phone launch like you do Apple fans.

Obviously, love plays into the notion of particularly strong brands. And while potential institutions may not outwardly seem to have the same potential feel for consumers, with the right people and the right brand, they can achieve the status of a loved brand.

What are some ways that you can inject the idea of love into your bank or credit union brand? First, run your brand through the love – respect axis. This is a terrific book and website that explains the deeper idea of loving a brand and will give you great insight on how members/consumers feel about your financial institution. Second, develop a staff that openly loves your brand. If your staff doesn’t love the brand, they won’t live in front of consumers and those consumers will quickly pick up on the inauthenticity of your brand. Lastly, make your brand fun. Fun brands are easier to love. Harley-Davidson and Apple are good examples of this. Other popular brands (some of which, like financial institutions, may not seem overly open to the notion of love) that do the job include Charmin, Old Spice and Taco Bell. And check out their social media sites (particularly Twitter) to get a better feel for how they inject fun and love into brand.

If you don’t think a financial institution is a retailer for which consumers and feel love, think again. Many banks and credit unions, with a deep dive into branding, have developed cultures which consumers love. A great example of this is USAA.

No doubt about it, in our competitive modern financial services environment, it’s simply not good enough to be “liked” anymore. If your consumers don’t love you, they don’t have much a reason to stick with you. Therefore, it is critical banks and credit unions create brands that develop lovesick consumers, not those that are merely satisfied with their products and services.

How to Have a Successful Brand Day

How to Have a Successful Brand Day

Birthdays. Holidays. Gamedays. There are certain dates on the calendar we block off for special occasions and celebrations. And one such day every credit union or bank should have on their schedule is Brand Day.

What’s a Brand Day? A time when you gather your entire staff together to educate, reinforce and celebrate how you are unique in the marketplace. It’s not a time to conduct compliance or BSA training but rather a time help employees better understand your brand and most importantly better understand their role in living your brand.

But how do you conduct a successful brand day? I was fortunate to be a part of Blue Eagle Credit Union’s Brand Day recently and they offer the following insights into how to hold such an event (and make no mistake about it: brand days are “events”).

Know the “why”
“You have to make sure that your brand is top of mind with your staff,” says Laurissa Grubb, director of marketing for Blue Eagle Credit Union. “In our case, a large portion of our staff has less than two years tenure with the credit union.” She went on to say that employees need to understand exactly what branding is and how they can live it.

While Blue Eagle Credit Union does ongoing operational training on a regular basis, they felt it was critical to bring all staff together to focus on their brand. The training that day gave their staff the tools to engage with rather than sell to consumers.

Focus on the details
One of the things that made Blue Eagle Credit Union’s Brand Day such a success were the details. “The little things make a huge difference,” Grubb noted. “You don’t want them to just spend eight hours here and not get anything out of it other than having a good time with their co-workers. You want value for that time.”

One small thing they did was give every employee their own customized fruit box from Eddible Arrangements. The credit union has a file on every employee’s “favorites” including their favorite fruit. So rather than give everyone the same thing, the credit union customized a gift for every employee. That’s attention to detail.

Bring in outside help
“It helps having an outside person put your brand in perspective,” Grubb says. “They hear from us on a day to day basis. While we may be saying the same thing the expert speaker takes things to a different level.”

She went on to note that the outside person brings a different level of energy and gets your staff rejuvenated and refreshed.

Involve executives
The brand day is not about the outside speaker. It’s about your brand and your leadership. One thing we did was have Blue Eagle Credit Union’s management team come prepared with examples of what the vision is, how their staff was living the brand and what the brand meant to them.

“We couldn’t get them to shut up,” Grubb laughs. One of the most powerful aspects of the day was that unsolicited each manager got up and spoke about individual team members in a positive way: what they meant to them, how they were making a difference and stories about outstanding service. “It’s easy to think of the negative but we were reminded that day of all the things we do so well,” Grubb added.

Use a unique venue
Rather than hold their Brand Day at their credit union’s office, Blue Eagle Credit Union conducted their big event at a brewery. You read that right: they held it at Soaring Ridge Craft Brewers. While beer was not served during the event, the unusual location set the tone for the day.

“We looked for a fun venue because it set the stage and atmosphere for training,” Grubb said. “The fun factor was important.” There was even a cornhole game that everyone could play during breaks. Part of the training included a Blue Eagle Brand Jeopardy game we created and customized for the event.

So does all this “fun” and “brand training” impact the bottom line? Why invest the dollars into having a Brand Day? Because according to a study from McLean & Company, a disengaged employee costs an organization approximately $3,400 for every $10,000 in annual salary. So someone making $30,000 a year at your financial institution who is disengaged with your brand costs you over $10,000 on the bottom line per year—and that is just one employee. Imagine the revenue you can produce and savings you can earn by getting your staff engaged with your brand.

There are certain times of year when you pull your staff together for training activities. Turn those training days into Brand Days.

Branding Gives You Permission to Say No

Branding Gives You Permission to Say No

Credit unions and community banks are notorious for supporting every cause known to man. It’s in their DNA. It is who they are.

There comes a time, however, when financial institutions have to ask themselves how much is too much. Is supporting your loan officer’s church pot luck the best use of your marketing dollars? Does your annual sponsorship of the Sweet Potato Festival make good business sense? That depends on your brand plan. A strong brand plan answers these questions.

“What I really appreciated about the brand workshop was that the end result was not my brand plan. It was our brand plan. Our entire leadership team is on the same page,” said Helen Gibson, vice president of marketing and education for Denver Community Credit Union. “When someone is tempted to go back to the way we used to do things, we have a plan that gives us permission to say no. Our marketing team loves that.”

Brand plans, when developed correctly, identify exactly who your financial institution is and what it is about. They outline steps and processes necessary to initiate and maintain a consistent and unified brand strategy for existing and potential customers or members.

Brand plans provide specific guidelines on who your target audience is – not just age, gender and buying habits, but also how they navigate the world from day to day. Brand plans pinpoint how you make customers or members feel about themselves. They even describe what people perceive about your financial institution.

In essence, your brand plan takes the guesswork out of your marketing plan. It tells you who to target and when to target them, with what types of offers and messages. It sets the tone and purpose of your messaging. It gives you permission to say no when a sponsorship or campaign you’ve always done no longer aligns with your financial institution’s brand vision. It also gives you permission to say yes to new initiatives you never realized made sense.

Branding is more than pretty pictures, a snazzy logo or creative tagline, and it’s not a one-time campaign. Branding is something your employees live. It’s your financial institutions identity and how consumers relate to you. Use your brand plan as a GPS for your financial institution and give yourself permission to say no.



Cigars and Your Financial Institution Brand

Cigars and Your Financial Institution Brand

This article written by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director with On The Mark Strategies

Consider the following scenario — you are a small “boutique type” brand up against fierce local and digital competition and in a seemingly constant battle with federal government over-regulation at the hands of a specific agency.

Sound like your bank or credit union? In a lot of ways, it probably does. However, this scenario also aptly describes the conditions a small upstart cigar brand faces as detailed in a recent issue of Cigars and Spirits.

Far too often banks and credit unions think only in terms of financial institutions, so taking a look at an outside example offers invaluable insight and expertise. In this particular article, a cigar company executive described the challenge his brand faces in a way quite familiar to most banking credit union professionals: “I knew that … this storytelling construct was a perfect fit for what we wanted to accomplish with our brand — an iconic narrative that would stand the test of time.”

This lesson is directly applicable to banks and credit unions. We, too, face an oversaturated market full of traditional and non-traditional competitors (think online startup financial institutions like Simple Bank or Ally). We, too must establish iconic brand narratives that tell the stories of our financial institutions and give consumers a reason to stick with us.

The question becomes — how?

The cigar example gives additional terrific “outside the financial institution box” direction. If you have ever walked into a well-stocked cigar humidor, you know the feeling. It can be overwhelming. Hundreds of different brands offering thousands of different shapes, sizes, flavors and textures. Successful cigar brands find their niche, establish an iconic narrative that tells the story of their brand and rely heavily on consumer word-of-mouth and testimonial in order to thrive and survive.

Your bank or credit union brand can learn from this example. You must first accept the fact that you cannot be all things to all people. Any financial institution that tries this approach to branding will only succeed in being mediocre. Find your niche, what you do well and your best target audience and stick to that formula. Develop your own iconic narrative that is true to who you are and what you offer consumers. And strive to develop vibrant positive word-of-mouth testimonials from consumers that they in turn share with family and friends.

While it may seem a stretch comparison at first, the world of boutique cigars and banks and credit unions are very similar when it comes to branding. By taking a closer look at this outside-the-industry example, bank and credit union professionals can learn a valuable lesson.

You Don’t Own Your Brand Story

You Don’t Own Your Brand Story

While you may think you get to decide if your bank or credit union brand story/identity is authentic and meaningful, quite the opposite is true. Here’s the potentially painful revelation — the final arbiter of your brand identity (and its authenticity) is completely in the hands and voices of your consumers.

Maybe you really push the brand story that you are noble (for example your bank or credit union’s community activism or charitable donations). Or perhaps you’ve gone the accessibility route, really hyping your brick-and-mortar and digital access points. Or, like many banks and credit unions, you push the tried-and-true (but also boring and vulnerable) “we are the friendliest in town” mantra.

Regardless of your brand story, what you say must be what you present. There are plenty of brand standard guideline documents out there not worth the paper on which they are printed because they just don’t truthfully reflect consumer’s actual experience with your bank or credit union. Maybe you do a lot with the community but just don’t promote it and consumers don’t see it. Maybe you launched an app last year thinking that was an achieved goal only to find your competition launching new and updated apps that are a heck of a lot better than yours. Or maybe, as is too often the case, you preach about friendliness yet the staff your consumers encounter are anything but.

Since your consumers are the ones you desire to fully embrace your brand, you simply must relate a brand story that is authentic and that with which they can emotionally and mentally connect.

The only way to figure this out is by deep-diving into your bank or credit union corporate culture to find out two things:

1) What you do well and 2) What your consumers expect.

The intersection of these two things is your brand sweet spot. Anything outside that runs the risk of inauthenticity and rejection by your target audiences

The lesson here, the how-two, is simply living a brand that is authentic to who you are as a bank or credit union. One terrific example of this is UniWyo FCU based in Laramie, Wyoming. Fully embracing the wide-open Western heritage of their location and membership, the credit union adopted a brand of “Live Life Boldly” and does so on a daily basis. Terrific examples of this can be found in their many video posts.

Since it’s the consumer that ultimately owns your brand, not you, do the best you can to nurture and sustain it by living a brand that is both unique and authentic to your cultural identity.